Joseph and Phyllis Merlino, involved with organized crime? Fuhgeddaboudit!
That was the testimony Friday of a former FBI official who helped bring down the Philadelphia mob in the late 1980s.
Although Joseph N. Merlino’s father, Lawrence ``Yogi'' Merlino, and his cousin Joseph ``Skinny Joey'' Merlino were high-ranking mobsters, former FBI agent Larry Schneider testified that he and his mother had no ties to the mafia.
The New Jersey Merlinos are seeking a license from the state Casino Control Commission to allow their company, Bayshore Rebar of Pleasantville, to do work for Atlantic City casinos. The company inserts steel reinforcing rods to strengthen concrete.
Schneider testified that several of the six mobsters who turned state witnesses told him the New Jersey Merlinos had nothing to do with the mob.
They included Philip Leonetti, the brash mob underboss whose testimony helped end the reigns of New York's John Gotti and Philadelphia's Nicodemo Scarfo.
Testifying as a witness for Joseph N. Merlino in his licensing hearing _ his third try for such a license _ Schneider said he “baby-sat” a half-dozen mobsters during the run-up to the 1987 trial of Scarfo and others.
“Once they became protected witnesses, the FBI took them to undisclosed locations and monitored their activities and protected them,” he testified. “We talked to them all the time.”
Schneider testified he specifically asked Leonetti if Joseph N. Merlino and his mother were connected to organized crime.
“They were not,” Schneider quoted Leonetti as saying.
Much of the state's case against Bayshore Rebar in this third hearing centers on the relationship between Joseph N. Merlino and Anthony Giraldi, who the Division of Gaming Enforcement alleges is an associate of the Philadelphia mob.
On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Anthony Zarrillo Jr. confronted Merlino with phone records of conversations between him and Giraldi from 2001 to 2007, saying there were more than 4,000 in all.
Merlino says Giraldi is a friend, a plumber whom he would repeatedly call as a joke, knowing that Giraldi's father didn't like it when he answered the phone, particularly while working.
Merlino’s lawyer, John Donnelly, says Giraldi is not involved with organized crime. On Friday, he called Merlino’s ex-girlfriend, Chrissy Collaretti of Sewell, to testify about Giraldi, whom she knows from growing up in Philadelphia.
“He's just one of those guys everybody knows from the neighborhood,” she testified. “He's always out, always at a bar. He's a really funny, goofy guy. He likes to drink. I don't want to say he's not the smartest, but he's not.”
In response to a question from Donnelly, Collaretti testified Giraldi never “acted like a mobster.”
“How does a mobster act?” Zarrillo asked her on cross-examination.
“I don't know,” she replied.
“Do mobsters act a certain way?” Zarrillo continued.
“I didn't know that they did,” Collaretti replied.
“That's precisely my point,” Zarrillo said.